Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
We shall give the remainder of the story as it may be gathered from the play, without dividing it into scenes. And indeed great part of it, for want of convenience in acting, was often recited by Father Christmas, in his character of Chorus. We also omit the mill scenes, as they afforded a kind of by-play, that had little or nothing to do with the main story. Whenever time was required for the principle personages to get ready, a bevy of women were brought on to gossip about old times and the past year's events, or they told stories, danced, or sung until their turn came to "serge their flow," (bolt their meal.)
Duffy complained to the kind old witch that she was very dissatisfied with her aged spouse. The old crone advised her to
have patience and well feather her nest, that she might secure a youthful successor to Squire Lovell, who was’nt likely to trouble her long. Notwithstanding Madam's griefs, she kept the Bucca-boo to his work, so that all her chests and presses were filled with stockings, blankets, yarn and home-spun cloth; and her husband was clad, from top to toe, in devil-made garments. Squire Lovell, as was his wont, being away hunting every week-day, from dawn till dark, and the housekeeper and other servants hearing a constant rumbling throughout the house like the noise of a spinning-wheel, only varied by the clicking of cards, thought their mistress busy at work, when she spent great part of her time at the mill.
The stocking that Duffy made out to be knitting, but never finished, had always a stitch down. By that old Betty suspected her of 'having strange dealings as well as herself.
Though the time seemed long and wearisome to Madam, the term for which the devil engaged to serve her drew near its end yet she was ignorant as ever of his true name, and gave herself but little concern on that account, thinking it might be just as well to go with a devil, who was so very obliging, as to remain with old Squire Lovell; for all the time this Bucca-boo became, as it were, her slave, he was well-behaved and never gave her the least reason to complain of his conduct.
Yet when she walked through Trove orchards, and saw the apple-trees weighed down with ripe fruit, she had some misgivings, lest her next abode might be less pleasant than Trove, besides; she thought that the devil, like most men, might be very civil in courtship but behave himself quite otherwise when he had her in his power.
Madam being much perplexed made her troubles known to Betty, the witch, who, cunning woman as she was, had’nt found out the particulars of the bargain. She was’nt much surprised, however, when Duffy told her, because she knew that women and devils were capable of doing extraordinary things. Betty was somewhat troubled, but not much; for in old times, white-witches could perform almost incredible feats, by having devils and other spirits under their command. So, after twirling her thumbs a minute, and thinking what to do, she said, "Duffy, my dear, cheer up! I would’nt like for ’e to be taken away before me. Now do what I advise ’e, and it is much to me if we don't find ’e a way to fool this young devil yet, he is but a green one. So, to-morrow evening, soon after sunset, bring me down a black jack of your oldest and strongest beer. But before that, be sure you get the Squire to go hare-hunting. Fool him with the old story, or any thing else to make him go. Wait up till he comes back, and note well what he may say. Go
[paragraph continues] ’e home now: ask me no questions; but mind, and do what I have told ’e!"
Next morning, the Squire noticed that his wife ate no breakfast, and, at dinner, observing that she seemed very sour and sad, and appeared to loath everything on the board, he said,
"My dear wife, how is it that you have been so melancholy of late? What is the matter with ’e? Don't I do as much to comfort ’e as any man can? If there's anything to be had, for love or money, you shall have it. You don't appear to have much appetite, honey; what would ’e like to eat?"
"I could just pick the head of a hare, if I had it," she replied; "I am longing for hare-pie; but you have been so busy about the harvest that we havn't had one for weeks, and I'm feeling so queer that have one I must or the consequences will be awful to the babe unborn, and to you as well."
"You know dear," said the Squire, "that harvest is late. We have still much corn to get into the mowhay. Besides, it's full time that all should be ready for cider-making. I would do my best to catch a hare if that would please ye," he continued, over a bit; "but dont ’e think that the old story about the child, that according to your fancy has been coming to and again for the last three years, is ever going to fool me to the neglect of corn and apples."
"Hard-hearted, unbelieving wretch," replied she, "you don't deserve to be the father of my child. Know, to your shame, that innocent virgins, when first wedded are often deceived with false hopes. Now would ’e have our cheeld disfigured for the sake of such little good as you are among the harvest people? An old man's bantling," she continued, "is mostly a wisht and wizened-looking object! Would ’e like to see ours with a face like a hare besides an ugly nose, and a mouth from ear to ear? Go, do, like a dear, and stay my longing; but in the evening, after croust (afternoon refreshment), will be time enow for ’e to start, that we may have one for dinner to-morrow."
With coaxing, scolding, and hopes of paternal joys, she, at length prevailed.
Soon after the Squire and his dogs were out of sight, Duffy drew about a gallon of beer, that was many years old, into a strong leather jack, made small at the mouth like a jar, for convenience in carrying, and took it down to the mill. Betty, after trying the liquor, said it would do, and told Duffy to go home, make the devil work till dark, wait up for her husband, and keep her ears open to all he might say. When nearly dark and a few stars glimmered, Betty turned the water from the mill-wheel and closed the flushet. Then, having donned her steeple-crowned hat and red cloak, she fastened the jack of beer
to one end of a "giss" (hempen girth), and her "crowd" to the other, slung them across her shoulder, under her cloak, took a black-thorn stick, closed her door, and away she went over the hill. She went up the "Bottom" (glen) between Trove and Boleigh, till she passed the Fuggo Hole, and there, amongst the thickets, she disappeared! All this Bottom was well-wooded, and the upper part thickly covered with hazel, thorn, and elder; and a tangled undergrowth of briars, brambles, and furze, surrounded a wood called the Grambler Grove. Few persons liked to pass near this place, because strange noises were heard, and fires often seen within it by night, when no one would venture near the place.
Duffy waited up many hours after the servants had gone to bed, in great impatience for her husband's return. Her fears and doubts increasing, she remained seated in the kitchen chimney-corner, attending to a pie on the hearth; that it might be kept hot for the Squire's supper. It came into her head at times, as a kind of forlorn hope, that the crafty old witch might somehow get the Devil to take her husband instead of herself. About midnight, however, her uneasy musings were interrupted by the dogs rushing in, followed by Squire Lovell, who seemed like one distracted, by the way he' capered about and talked in broken sentences, of which his wife could make neither head nor tail. Sometimes he would caper round the kitchen, singing snatches of a strange dancing-tune; then stop, try to recollect the rest, and dance till tired out. At last the Squire sat down and told his wife to bring him a flagon of cider. After draining it, he became more tranquil, and, when Duffy asked if he had caught a hare, he answered,
"I've seen queer sights to-night, and the damn’d hare—as fine a one as ever was chased—most in the dogs’ mouths all the while. We coursed her for miles, yet they couldn't catch her at all." Then he burst out singing,
O! the funny devil! How he tossed up his heels and tail when he danced and sang,
[paragraph continues] "I've forgotten the rest," said he, after a pause; "but give me supper, and fill the tankard again. Then I will begin at the beginning, and tell ’e all about the strange things I've seen to-night. I wish you had been there; it would have made ye
laugh, though I havn't seen ’e so much as smile for a long time. But give me supper, I tell thee again, and don't stay gaping at me like a fool frightened! Then, and not before, I'll tell thee all about our uncommon chase, and we will ride 'Over land, and over sea, with the jolly devil, far away, far away!'"
Duffy placed a pie on the board and helped the Squire. After supper he came more to himself, and said,
"We hunted all the way down, both sides of the Bottom, from Trove to Lamorna without seeing a hare. It was then dark, but for the starlight: we turned to come home, and, up by Bosava, out popped a hare, from a brake of ferns close beside the water. She (the hare) took up the moors; we followed close after, through bogs, furze, and brambles, helter-skelter, amongst mire and water. For miles we chased her—the finest hare that ever was seen, most in the dogs’ mouths all the way, yet they couldn't catch her at all. By the starlight we had her in sight all the way till far up the Bottom, between Trove and Boleigh; there we lost all sight and scent of her at last, but not till, tearing through brakes of brambles and thorns, we found ourselves in the Grambler Grove. And now," continued he, after a pull from the flagon, "I know for certain that what old folks say is true—how witches meet the Devil there of summer's nights. In winter they assemble in the Fuggo Hole, we all know; because one may then often hear the devil piping for their dance under our parlour floor—that's right over the inner end of the Fuggo. And now I believe what we took for a hare was a witch that we chased into this haunted wood. Looking through the thickets I spied, on a bare spot, surrounded by old withered oaks, a glimmering flame rising through clouds of smoke. The dogs skulked back and stood around me like things scared. Getting nearer, and looking through an opening, I saw scores of women some old and ugly, others young and passable enow as far as looks go. Most of them were busy gathering withered ferns or dry sticks, to the fire. I noted, too, that other witches, if one might judge by their dress, were constantly arriving—flying in over the trees, some mounted on ragworts, brooms, ladles, furze-pikes, or anything they could get astride of. Others came on through the smoke as comfortable as you please, sitting on three-legged stools; and alighted by the fire, with their black cats on their laps. Many came in through the thickets like hares, made a spring through the flame, and came out of it as decent lasses as one might see in Buryan Church of a holiday. A good large bonfire soon blazed up; then, by its light, I saw, a little way back sitting under a tree, who should ’e think? Why no less than old witch Bet, of the Mill. And by her side a strapping dark-faced fellow, that wasn't bad looking and that one wouldn't
take to be a devil at all but for the company he was with, and the sight of his forked tail that just peeped out from under his coat-skirts. Every now and then Old Bet held to his mouth a black leather jack, much like ours, and the Devil seemed to like the liquor by the way he smacked his lips. Now said I to myself I don't much dislike nor fear thee, devil or no, as thee art so honest as to drink hearty. So here's to thee, wife!"
Duffy was very impatient, but took care not to interrupt the Squire. After draining the flagon, he continued to say,
"Faix, I should think the Devil got drunk at last by the way he capered when the witches, locked hand-in-hand, danced round the fire with him in their midst. They went round and round so fast one couldn't follow their movements as Betty beat up on her crowd the old tune of
"Over a while Old Bet stopped playing; the Devil went up to her, drained the jack, took from her the crowd, and sang a dancing-tune I never heard before. The words, if I remember right were,
"The witches then sung as a chorus,
"I thought the words odd for a dancing-tune, but devils and witches do queer things."
"The witches, locked hand-in-hand, danced madder and faster, pulled each other right through the fire, and they wern’t so much as singed, the bitches. They spun round and round so fast that at last, especially when the Devil joined in, my head got light. I wanted to dance with them and called out as I advanced, 'Hurra! my merry Devil, and witches all!' In an instant, quick as lightning, the music stopped, out went the fire, a blast of wind swept away umers (embers) and ashes, a cloud of dust and fire came in my eyes and nearly blinded me. When I again looked up they had all vanished. By good luck I found my way out of the wood and home. I'll have another hunt to-morrow and hope for better luck."
The Squire drank another flagon of ale; then, weighed down with fatigue and drink, he rolled from his seat on to the floor. Duffy covered him up. He often passed his nights thus, when too drunk to go over stairs. As she threw over him a rug, and kicked a pile of rushes from the floor, in under his head, he murmured, "To-morrow, we will ride over land and over sea, through the air and faraway!"
It was hours after sunrise when Squire Lovell awoke and found his wife sitting near him; but she didn't say a word about his going a-hunting; in fact she would rather not be left in the house alone, or with servants only. Late in the afternoon, however, he whistled to his dogs and away he went a hunting again. As he had a mind to see, by daylight, the ground he coursed over, and where the witches danced, he took his way towards the Grambler Wood. Now Duffy hadn't been up-stairs for all that day, but, a little after sunset, she went up to the guest-chamber, as a large spare bed-room was called, to fetch something she much wanted. She took the garment from a hanging-press, and hastened to leave the chamber, but, when she passed round the bed she beheld the bucca-boo, standing before her, in the door-way. She never saw him looking so well, nor so sprucely dressed, before. From beneath a broad-brimmed hat and plume his coal-black hair fell in glossy curls on his shoulders. He wore a buff coat of fine leather, with skirts so long and full that they quite concealed his forked tail, or he might have coiled it round his waist for what we know, any how there wasn't so much as the tip of it to be seen.
Madam surveyed him, over and over again, from the golden spurs on his bright black riding-boots to the nodding plume on his high pointed hat, and thought she had never seen a morn likely-looking fellow. Yet she was speechless from fear or surprise. The devil, advancing with stately step, doffed his hat, and bowing, said in courteous tones,
"Know, fair lady, the time is passed and some hours over that I engaged myself to work for ye, and I hope that you have no reluctance to fulfil your part of our agreement."
"Indeed no," said she, "I can't say I have much objection as you are a very well-behaved obliging devil, and, during the three years that I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance, you have given me no reason to complain of your conduct. Yet," continued she, after a moment's pause, "I'd like to know where you live when at home, and what sort of a country it is? I fear it may be rather hot, as you seem to be build very dark!"
"As to where my country is" replied he, "You wouldn't be much the wiser if I told ’e all about it, because you have hitherto seen so little of the world, and there would be great
difficulty in making ’e understand. As a proof, however, that my country's climate isn't much to be complained of, you see me strong and healthy enow; besides, I'm not so dark-skinned under my clothes; and, if you were burned as black as myself, I would love, ye all the same."
"I can't quite make up my mind," said she, "though no doubt you would please me as well, and make a better husband than Squire Lovell, who, if he isn't drunk, snores all night with his face to the wall. If I went how would ’e convey me to your far country?"
"I have brought to the Grambler Grove a noble steed," he replied, "that will go over land and sea, or fly through the air with lightning speed. Now do make haste, dear, and get ye ready for my horse is very impatient to be left alone; he may whistle for me and shake down the chimney-tops, or paw the ground and make all the country tremble; yet he is as gentle as a lamb when mounted. So come along as you are; there's no time for delay," said he, offering his hand.
"If you please," said madam, shrinking back, "I would like to stay in Trove a little longer."
"Now, no nonsense," said the devil, in an angry tone; "You know that I have been true to my word, as every gentleman ought, and trust you will abide by our bargain: and as for your knowing my name," added he, with a haughty air, "that's impossible, because it is long since that I, like other persons of quality, have only been known by my title, and even that is not familiar to vulgar ears." Assuming his ordinary courteous manner, he said, "Yet, my love, for mere form's sake I'll ask ’e three times if ye like! Besides, I'm curious to know what sort of a guess you will make at it. So now, for the first time asking, tell me if you can, what is my name?"
"My dear Mr. Devil," said she, "don't ’e take offence if I happen to misname ye in my ignorance. Now arn’t ’e my lord Beelzebub!"
"No! be d——," replied he, choaking with anger, "how could ye even 'think me such a mean, upstart devil as Beelzebub, whose name isn't known in the place where I belong; and, even here, among those best acquainted with him, nobody ever heard of his grandfather! Now I Mar my horse shaking his bridle and, for the second time, I ask ye my name?"
"Pray excuse my ignorance and don't ’e be vexed," said she, "for I don't doubt but you are a grand gentleman when at home and no other, I think, than Prince Lucifer!"
"What? Lucifer!" he exclaimed, more than ever enraged; "you make me mad but to think that I should ever be taken for one of such a mean tribe as Lucifer, who is no better than the
other. As for me, I wouldn't be seen in their company. None of their family were ever known or heard of in this country till lately. Great indeed is your want of sense," continued he, with a scornful air, "to take me for one of these upstarts. Yet, forsooth, many fools—if one may judge by their fears—seem to reverence them; nay almost to worship them. But crafty folks, who profit by fools fears, havn't a good word to say of these new buccas behind their backs, nor yet of their country; for that, they say, is full of burning brimstone, and one may well believe it, for when any of the tribe come here . they stink of sulphur. But one like you—born and bred in Buryan Churchtown—can't have any notion of the antiquity and dignity of my family! If you hadn't been the loveliest of Buryan ladies I would never have condescended to spin for ’e. And now, for the third and last time, I ask what is my name?" On the same breath he added, "come! Give me your hand love, and let's away, for you can never guess it."
Duffy didn't feel much reluctance to go with him, yet was proud to outwit the devil and answered,
"Don't ’e be in such a hurry, old gentleman, Buryan people mayn’t be so ignorant as you think them; they live near enow to St. Levan witches to know something of devils and their dealings. You are Tarraway—you won't deny it!"
"No, by my tail," said he, almost speechless with surprise; "I am too proud of my ancient name to disown it. I'm fairly beaten; it's provoking though to be outwitted by a young thing like you, and I can't think however you found it out. But true as I'm a gentleman, if you don't go with me now, the time will come when you'll wish you had, and one day you shall spin for me yet."
Duffy shrunk back, and, in a moment, thick smoke gathered around Tarraway; the room became dark; and he disappeared amidst a blaze of lightning and a rattling peal of thunder, that shook the house from end to end.
Duffy, much frightened, ran down stairs, and, as she entered the hall, in tore old Jone, terrified out of her wits by the kitchen chimney-top rattling down on the hearth where pots, kettles, and pans were all smashed. Their dread was much increased by finding throughout the house a smother of burning wool. Other women servants ran shrieking into the hall. Old Jone said she felt a fit coming on; whilst she looked about for a place to fall down and have her fit comfortable; into their midst rushed the Squire, with nothing on but his hat, shirt, and shoes. At this sight all the women have fits; the Squire stands for some time, looking on, like one distraught, till the women come to; all rise and run out except his wife; she asked him how he
came home in such a plight, and where he had left his clothes. The Squire told her that when he came to the Grambler he had a fancy to see by daylight the place where Old Nick and his witches had their dance the preceding night. He entered and searched all round—over bare places, between the trees, and elsewhere, but saw no signs of any fire having been made in the wood; there wasn't even a handful of ashes, or the grass so much as burnt on the spot where he was sure he saw a bonfire blazing the night before.
He turned to leave this haunted place, by taking his course down the Bottom, but, when he was just out of the wood, a blinding flash of lightning surrounded him like a sheet of flame, whilst he was stunned by louder thunder than he ever heard before. When he recovered his senses and opened his eyes he found that all his home-spun woollen garments were burned from his breech and his back, leaving him as he then stood. He believed it was all done by witchcraft, because he saw their devilish doings. He told his wife to fetch him a coat, stockings, and breeches.
Duffy, disliking to go upstairs alone, called Jone to accompany her, and great was her terror to find that every article of Tarraway's work had disappeared from chests and presses—nothing was left in them but Squire Lovell's old moth-eaten garments covered with dust and ashes. He was very dissatisfied with his old clothes, but there was no help for it.
As clever a conjuror, or pellar, as any in the west country was fetched, He declared that it was all exactly as Squire Lovell thought—the devil and witches had served him out because he . wanted to pry into their doings, and had chased one of them in the form of a hare. The wise man nailed old horse-shoes over the doors, and promised, for little pay in proportion to his services, that he would take Trove and the Squire's household under his protection, so that they need fear no more mischief from witchcraft, nor bad luck.
Madam, by the witch's aid, had a happy riddance of Tarraway, yet greater troubles were in store for her. Squire Lovell, disliking to be seen again wearing his old stockings, would neither go to church nor to market, and instead of hunting, as was his wont, from dawn till dark, he stayed indoors all day, .in a very surly mood, to keep his wife at her spinning; and she knew no more how to spin than when she summoned the bucca-boo to work for her.
The Squire having forbade Betty the witch to come near his house, Duffy had little chance to see her; but one Thursday evening when he was off guard—up to the blacksmith's shop in Boleigh, to hear the news from returning market-people, as was
his custom—Duffy hastened off to Mill and made known her troubles, and the next market-day Betty went to Penzance and bought the best stockings she could get. On Sunday morning Duffy brought them to her husband and passed them off as her own work; but he wasn't at all satisfied, because they wern’t so fine and soft as what he had been accustomed to for three years. He wouldn't go to church in them; he went a-hunting, however, and returned very cross, for his new stockings didn't protect his legs from brambles, furze and wet, like Tarraway's. He, again staid indoors to keep his wife to spin, and Madam was obliged to twirl her wheel all day though she only spoiled the wool, for unless he heard the sound of turn or cards, he would be up to the wool-chamber door calling out, "art thee asleep Duffy, lazy slut that thee art, I havn't heard cards nor turn for an hour or more, and unless thou very soon makest me better stockings than the rags on my legs, and a good breeches too, I'll know the reason why, that I will, you lazy faggot you, what the devil else did I marry thee for I'd like to know." She would threaten to card his face if he entered, so they led a cat and dog life for months, that seemed years to Duffy, shut up as she was in a dusty wool-loft and not a soul to comfort her or to share her griefs. Her spirits sunk and her beauty faded fast, she thought it had been better by far to have gone with the devil, than lead such an irksome life with old Squire Lovell. Often she prayed Tarraway to come for her, but he turned a deaf ear to her cry, and was never more seen in Trove.
By good luck, when winter and muddy roads came, the Squire took it into his head one Sunday morning to don his jack-boots and jog off to church, that he might learn what was going on in the rest of the world.
It was the Sunday before Christmas. He wished his wife to mount behind him, but she, pretending illness, begged to be excused and said she would be glad to accompany him next time.
Madam watched her good man spurring his Dobbin till he was clear of Trove town-place, then down she ran to Mill, and told old Betty that unless she got a speedy release from her irksome task she would drown herself in the mill-pool.
Bet sat a moment on the mill-bed, twirling her thumbs so quick that one could hardly see them spinning round each other, and said, "No, my dear cheeld, dont ’e think of such a thing yet, young and handsome as you are it would be a pity, let's try a scheme that I've thought of, a woman never should despair of finding a trick to fool an old man, and if need be .the old witch will stir her stumps and trot again to help ’e, if one plan don't serve we'll try another, for as the old saying is 'nobody ever got out of a ditch by grunting,' what's just popped into my
head may answer!" "Do tell me what it is," said Madam. "No, there's no time now," Betty replied. "You have wasted so much already in bemoaning your griefs instead of thinking how to get rid of them, like a sensible body ought, that old master will soon be back from church, and he musn’t know that you have been here, so only mind now what I am going to tell ’e."
Next Saturday, being Christmas-Day, the Squire will no doubt go to church and desire you to go with him; by all means go, and when, as usual after churching, you stop at the cross to exchange greetings with other gentry, I'll come new' enow for ’e to hail me with 'A Merry Christmas to ’e An Betty, and a Happy New Year when a do come.' I shall wish ’e the same, and you invite me, before the Squire, to come up in the evening to taste your Christmas beer. And in the afternoon when, according to custom, there will be a hurling match from Churchtown to Boleigh, the Squire and you, with scores of gentlefolks, on horseback and a-foot, will be near the goal to see the ball brought fairly in, and to hinder fighting; then look ’e out for me, give your kindest greetings again, and don't ’e be surprised at anything you may hear and see, or if you be don't ’e show it, and invite me again to partake of your Christmas cheer. That's all I have to tell ’e now," said she, opening her door for Duffy to depart, but going a few steps on the Green she continued, "It don't cost ’e any pain, no not a bit, to speak kindly to a poor body now any more than before you became Madam Lovell, and as good a lady as the best in Buryan, for you are no ways vain; but if you had ever shown any scornful pride be assured I would never have gone a trotting for ’e, nor do what I intend, to get ’e relieved of your troubles: besides it isn't your fault that you can neither knit nor spin, you never had a kind mammy to teach ’e. And no one can blame ye for deceiving old Squire Lovell—lying and deceit come to us poor women by nature—so hasten home, leave the rest to me, and hope for better times."
Madam got home just in time to see that dinner was ready, when her husband returned in a good temper after his morning's ride.
"Duffy, my dear," said he, as she assisted him to pull off his boots, "I wish you had gone to church, everybody was enquiring for ’e, and asking what was become of us this long time that they hadn't seen sight nor sign of us. And some of the women—cuss their itching curiosity they can never be satisfied—wanted to roll down my boot-tops and undo my knee-buckles that they might have a peep at my stockings. But on Christmas-Day come ye along with me, they won't be so foarthing if you be there."
Duffy replied, "my darling man, I'll go with all my heart and see if they carry their impudence so far again, and now dear, make a hearty dinner, and tell me all the news you have heard."
Christmas-Day in the morning, Duffy, as richly attired as any lady in Buryan, mounted on a pillion behind her husband, and away they went to church. After service, a great number assembled at the Cross and sung old charols. Squire and Madam Lovell exchanged many kindly compliments with the Cardews, Harveys, Noys, Penders, Vivians, Gwennaps, and other ancient gentry of Buryan, who were waiting for their steeds.
Whilst wishing her neighbours a Merry Christmas Madam Lovell had kept a sharp look out for old Betty; but had nearly given up all hopes of seeing her, and was about to mount behind the Squire, when glancing around for the last time she spied her steeple-crown and red mantle among the crowd of singers, through whom she had great trouble to lead her fat and lazy Dobbin to the heaving-stock. Madam went to meet her, shook hands heartily and said, "good morrow to ’e Dame Chymellan, how are ’e an; I am glad to see ye looking so well and wish ’e a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and many of them. I hope you liked the sermon and the singing, and so on;"—we can't tell all the fine compliments that passed so long ago.
"Thank your honour, and I wish ’e the same," the old dame replied, making a low curtsey to Duffy. Then turning round to other gentlefolks, she continued to wish all their honours as she styled them—the compliments of the tide, calling each by name as she curtsied to every one.
Now there was nothing remarkable in An Betty's civil words; but as she stood close beside the Squire, who was on horse-back, and- bestowed her old-fashioned greetings at every curtsey, an unseemly noise was heard. Squire Lovell got vex t, the ladies looked confused, glanced at him and rode off.
Betty, however, without appearing to hear or to heed anything, mounted the heaving-stock, settled herself comfortably on her high-peaked bow-pad, and jogged away with Dame Pendar; Squire Lovell and others going the same road At parting Duffy said to her, "now be sure An Betty you come up early to try our Christmas-cake and ale." "Thank your honours I will," replied she, in turning off to the Mill.
It was customary for the Squire's tenants, and all who choose, to assemble at his house every night from Christmas-Eve till twelfth-night, to freely partake of his abundant cheer and help in the merry disports of the tide; yet he wasn't at all pleased because his wife invited the old dame. "I should’nt have minded her coming at any other time," said he, but to-day a
good many from the, hurling will come home with us and pass the evening; I hope however, she will be on her best behaviour before the quality: to be sure one don't like to offend the spiteful old witch for fear of her tricks."
In the afternoon Squire Lovell and his wife, with many others—mostly on horse-back—were got together near Daunce-Mayn when old Betty stalked in to their midst, and just such another scene was acted there as took place in Church-town.
Many who came from a distance went down to Trove to pass a merry Christmas night.
A score or more of ladies and gentlemen, seated in the hall, pledged each other in hot-spiced-ale, brandy, punch, and wine, when Betty, Jone and others entered, holding aloft their horns of foaming liquor. The Squire fearing another display of Betty's unbecoming behaviour, rose in haste to prevent her drinking their healths with all the honours. "Stay a moment An Betty," said he, "come into the kitchen, I must tell ’e that twice already to-day you have made me ashamed of ’e, how could ’e do so and show so little respect for the company both in Church-town and Boleigh?"
"O dear master, you musn’t mind such a trifle as that," replied she, without budging an inch, "for it will soon be all the same with madam there, your honour's wife, if you keep her to spin so much, she won't be able to help it for her life. You may look scared and Misbelieving, but indeed she won't; no! no more than I can whenever I move quick, or curtsey to your honours as I am, in duty, bound to do; and if your honours would like to hear how it happened to me I'll tell ’e.
Many of the company having intimated that they would like to hear how she became in such a condition, Squire Lovell placed her in a settle near the hearth, she emptied her horn and gave the following relation:—
"Know then, your honours, that in my first husband's time,—more than thirty years ago, we lived at Trevider. I did out-door work and helped old mistress besides, when there was extra house work, such as great brewings, cheese-making, the baking and roasting at feasten-tides, spinning for the weavers, besides the regular spinning of winter's nights, and such like. Though I say it, there wasn't a brisker lass in Buryan than I was then; just like mistress there, your honour's wife. There was no woman and but few men that could beat me in shaking liners (threshed wheaten sheaves), leading trusses, branding turves, raking tabs (roots, grass, &c.), reaping, rulling, aye, or binding either on a push; and could make an arish mow as well as any man. Old m aster used to say that at the windan-sheet (winnowing-sheet), there wasn't my equal in the parish for handling the seive and
kayer (coarse seive), and that I made a better sample of corn, and not half so much after-winding and waste, as any other windster he ever met with; but I needn't blow my trumpet any more on that score. My old mistress, Madam Pendar, was a noted spinster, as you may have heard, and of winter's-nights she, with her servant maidens and I, took our places at the turns (spinning wheels); master and the servant men carded and sung three-men's songs or told old drolly the while. My spinning-work was soon equal to Madam Pendar's though she would never allow it; but my yarn was strong, even, and fine, just like your honour's wife's," said Bet, addressing Squire Lovell to fasten his attention. "And often I was kept spinning all day for days running, just like mistress there. But one Christmas night every body belonging to Trevider, young and old, went off in a Guise-dance, except old mistress and I. 'Now they are all gone, Betty,' said she, 'and left us all alone, see if we don't enjoy ourselves." Mistress drew a good joram (jug) of strong old ale, boiled, sweetened, and spiced it whilst I roasted the apples; we brewed a drink fit for a king; for hours we pledged each other's good health and drank to our heart's content. Over a while mistress began to brag of her spinning, she was proud of her work and so was I of mine, just like your honour's wife. I shall ever remember that Christmas-night and how cherry the old hall looked with the Christmas-log burning bright, and faggots of oak and ash blazing up the chimney, showed every window, dresser and wall decked in holly, box, and Ivey; with branches of bays and rosemary around the pewter flaggons, plates, and platters, that shone like silver among the Christmas greenery.
Old mistress boasted much of her spinning, and wager’d a bottle of brandy—which she placed on the board—that she would spin a pound of wool in a shorter time, and make a finer yarn than I could. I took her to her word, rolled up the rushes from the floor, to make a clear run all the length of the hall, and placed, our turns, while mistress weighed and carded the wool, divided the rulls, and gave me my choice of them. When all was ready, to cheer our hearts and put life in our heels, we each drank a noggin of brandy. Then I tripped backward and forward as light as a feather, and for more than three hours we twirled our wheels by the bright fire-light, keeping good time together. My yarn was suant (even) and fine as a flaxen thread; just like that spun by my lady there, your honour's wife, and I was then about her age. I had nearly spun my pound of wool, and never felt in better heart for dancing to the turn, when, as bad luck would have it, my twadling-string—weakened with so much stepping backwards—burst. I fell to the ground, and ever
since I've been in the sad predicament that so surprised your honours. Though its comforting to have companions in affliction," on," said she, after a pull at the flaggon, "yet from the regard I have for your honour and mistress there, I have spoke of my ailment to warn ’e that as sure as I sit here with a broken twadling-string it will soon be the same with my lady there, if its true, what I do hear, that you keep her to spin from morn till night most every day of the year. When that do happen you will be frighten’d into fits; old mistress was so scared that she nearly lost her senses, she thought the house falling about her ears, to save herself she snatched the bottle and tore up stairs; next day she was found asleep under a bed with the empty bottle close by her head."
Old Betty's story rather surprised the company, and Squire Lovell, much concerned, said "I'm glad you told me An Betty, now drink another horn full like a dear; I wouldn't for the world that my darling Duffy should be in such a plight, nevermore shall she spin from this very night. I would go bare leg’d all my life, rather than such a mishap should befall my wife."
The entertainment concludes with a dance, to music made by Father Christmas on a crowd.
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